A crowd of concertgoers surf during Anthrax’s show at FivePoint Amphitheater in Irvine on Friday evening, May 11, 2018. (Photo by Drew A. Kelly, Contributing Photographer)

Written by Jessica Benda

Contributing writer

After cutting off a partnership with Live Nation, Irvine is reviewing plans for an amphitheater in Great Park — and may spotlight the Pacific Symphony as its resident orchestra.

The envisioned 8,000- to 10,000-seat venue is intended to replace the temporary FivePoint Amphitheater, operated by Live Nation, which filled the void after the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater closed in 2016. The city aims to open the new amphitheater by summer 2027, the aide said. City Manager Pete Carmichael.

Irvine partnered with Live Nation on a proposal for a 14,000-seat amphitheater, which would have been designed by Live Nation and built by the city. The venue was expected to cost $130 million, with Live Nation contributing $20 million toward construction and $3.5 million annually for its use, an increase of 3% each year. Irvine council members canceled the co-op in July during a lengthy meeting with much resident opposition and after Live Nation presented a counterproposal that included a $20 million rate increase.

Carmichael said the split with Live Nation didn’t set back the timeline much to open some sort of permanent venue.

“The difference is that they were on the right track with the design and were almost ready to move on to construction drawings,” he said. “We are backing that up and starting fresh in terms of a smaller facility that has an in-house sound system and is operator-driven rather than promoter-driven.”

In Los Angeles there is the Greek Theater. San Diego has Rady Shell. Irvine leaders say they hope their new amphitheater will fit in those spaces. Officials are looking at those places for research purposes, including operating strategies and reservation policies, Great Park Director Steve Torelli said. One feature Irvin is prioritizing, he said, is an internal speaker system to mitigate residential noise impacts, which was a prevalent concern in the now-canceled Live Nation collaboration.

Although still in the early stages, the design team is also prioritizing integrating the place into the Great Park by taking advantage of the park’s views and amenities, such as the Great Meadow and lakes. On the operations side, Torelli said they are focusing on a diverse group of promoters to bring in “culturally diverse acts and high-caliber talent.”

The Great Park Board, made up of council members, also supported City Manager Oliver Chee moving forward with discussions about a formal partnership with the Pacific Symphony, which would designate it as Irvine’s resident orchestra. Irvine took the symphony into consideration when designing the space.

“We spoke with the Pacific Symphony extensively to understand what design and operational needs they had that could be added to help complement the general amphitheater’s programming,” Torelli said.

Affiliates with the orchestra, which is part of the prestigious League of American Orchestras, dominated the public comment period of the recent board meeting. From veteran musicians to orchestra board members, the community has expressed support for the potential residency.

“What sets the Pacific Symphony apart as a partner is our deep roots in Irvine. We are not a transient, profit-seeking entity. We are fully integrated into the community,” said John Evans, president emeritus of the Pacific Symphony, who has 37 years of board experience. “Symphony is ready to be your resident orchestra, cultural partner and steadfast supporter of Irvine’s artistic reputation.”

Chi is expected to return with a recommendation to the venue operator in the first quarter of 2024.

“The construction of this amphitheater will represent the most significant public works project the city has ever undertaken in its history,” Council Member Tammy Kim said.

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